Why “Zen”?

I’ve been putting off writing this post for awhile, though it’s been the big glaring omission from the beginning. Basically, it’s the response to the obvious question: “Why Zen and the Art of Parenting“?

So, the redux version of my history: I’m a recovering Catholic (I’m sure there will be more posts teasing all of THAT out) who discovered Buddhism just after graduating college when I was really struggling to figure out who I was and what I wanted to do with my life after years of having a clear path laid out before me. Moreover, it was also to help me deal with my default method of reaction: anger.

I’m a pretty Type A guy, and I like knowing the lay of the land or being in control of the situation. Not a great fit for a new college grad figuring out where to go from there. Now, in many ways being Type A can be helpful. It provides drive, determination, and a clear vision of what you want to see happen. The downside is, when that vision is not realized as you wanted, how do you react?

Discovering Buddhism, or really more generally mindfulness, helped me during that period, and I practiced regularly for a period of time. Then life happened, or rather, life began going generally the way I wanted it to go for awhile, minus the occasional hiccup, and my active practice began to wain.

I hit a point relatively recently, where I realized something had to change. In a nutshell, a little over a year ago we had gone out with some extended family to a wonderful lunch, and visited our family members’ hotel room they were staying at in Boston afterwards. As we made our way back to the parking garage our daughter began acting up – combination of too much sugar and too much stimulation. Michael made the (correct) decision to pull her aside out of the middle of the open marketplace area to have a conversation with her about her behavior.

At this point, a stranger all of a sudden started loudly calling out “He’s hurting that child! He’s abusing that child!” I. Lost. It. I unloaded on her both barrels and left very little for scrap. Like, unhinged my metaphorical jaw and devoured that overbearing termagant whole. Now, the general idea of defending my husband for doing his job as a father (which, for the record was in no way shape or form abusive) is a noble one, but the execution left something very much wanting. Frankly, I’m lucky I didn’t end up as a video clip some passerby caught that went viral on the interwebs, which is something that can happen all too easily these days.

That was the moment I realized something had to change. My default reaction toward anger was way out of balance with how I needed to be living my life, especially as an example for my daughter. I’ve alluded to this in a previous post, but this was the point at which I realized I had been reading books about mindfulness, listening to podcasts and dharma talks about mindfulness – but I hadn’t actually sat for meditation in a VERY long time. The first time I did that, I remembered what I had been missing. It’s the not the research, it’s not the reading, it’s the action that brings the benefits.

I wish I could say that reintegrating meditation into my life has completely quelled my anger issues. It hasn’t. I’m a human being like everyone else – just trying to get a little better day by day. I can report that it has helped, and it continues to help.

So “why Zen”? Because I want to be a better father. I want to be a better human being.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Viktor E. Frankl

As this quote from Viktor Frankl illustrates – there is a precious space between a stimulus and a response. I want to inhabit this space more fully and to use its grace to inform better decisions and take better actions. Don’t we all?

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